Special Report: Staying Involved In Your Child’s Online Life

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WEST MICHIGAN — Just what exactly are your kids doing on the internet and how can you keep them safe?

The cyberworld is constantly evolving, changing by the day and for parents to keep up with it it’s no easy task. According to Pew Research an estimated 93% of teens use the internet and 22% of them log onto Facebook more than 10 times a day.

But it’s not just smartphones kids are using; everything from iPads to video game consoles are used as outlets to connect to hundreds of social media sites.

Melissa Miller, a mother of five says it’s like a second job keeping all the gadgets under control.

“We were looking at two different accounts, plus SnapChat plus this and finally we said enough is enough. There’s just too much to monitor and for me to feel comfortable with what you’re doing,” said Miller.

When many think social media they likely think Facebook and Twitter, but a newer tool is emerging that experts say is dangerous.

It’s an app called Ask.Fm; your kids can post questions where other people can answer anonymously. It’s not run in the United States and goes unmonitored.  It’s also been tied to several cyber-bullying cases.

One way to prevent some of the bullying is to turn off anonymous questions in the privacy setting section but the only way to do that is for you to have access to your kids account.

You’ve also probably heard of SnapChat, which allows users to set a time limit on how long pictures and videos can be seen once they’re sent.

The reality though, is the pictures which teens use for flirting and sexting are never really deleted.

Judy Bouley admits she’s no expert but has seen a lot as a counselor in the Forest Hills School District for 15 years. She’s also a part of the ‘Triple A’ committee, an organization run by parents to raise awareness on various topics.  This month’s discussion is focused on internet safety.

Bouley  says parents need to be empowered; know what you’re looking for on the internet, do research on what’s popular now to avoid problems later.

“You can go to those apps and find out what are the positive and negatives. Why are kids going through them? Just because they trend today its going to change in a month so the only way your going to keep up on it is that your diligent,” she says.

She says the key is to create rules right from the start and suggests even print off a social media contract (http://www.puresight.com/Useful-tools/family-online-safety-contract.html) to fill out with you and your child.

“You set guidelines and together you set those guidelines and then you have expectations and consequences when the expectations aren’t met.”

Bouley says the conversations you have with your child will last longer than using the internet blockers or filters, and no matter how late you start any of these things she says it’s just about staying consistent.

For more helpful information just check out the links below:

http://kidshealth.org/teen/safety/safebasics/internet_safety.html

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/advice-for-parents/internet-safety-tips-high-school-kids

http://www.nationalcac.org/prevention/internet-safety-kids.html

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